Although this admission may make me a "bad" psychology student, it has to be said: I previously gave up on Oliver Sacks because I found his writing style boring, self-involved, and far too crammed with technical neurological terminology that lacked the detailed explanation that would allow those unfamiliar with brain physiology to follow. I generally prefer, for example, the work of Dawkins and Ramachandran, who always seemed to me to be able to balance the perfect ratio of the subjective and the objective, even when discussing phenomena that most humans would find surreal or supernatural. Despite my hesitations, I decided to read Musicophilia because its content deeply interested me, and I'm glad I did.
Although Sacks again re-uses many of his old case studies, now relating them to music, and still cites his own books and experiences more than anyone else's, he finally struck that chord of interest in me that had been strangely absent when reading his other work. Musicophilia is a highly intriguing exploration of how and why humans experience the many strange phenomena associated with what we call music, from the perspectives of both clinically normal and brain-damaged individuals. For example, where do auditory hallucinations come from and what do they mean? What occurs when we cannot get a song "out of our heads"? How is it that the most severely amnesic man in the world cannot even remember that he had been conscious one minute before, but can play from memory complicated piano pieces or conduct an orchestra? The relatively few of the case studies that are actually new Sacks material are fascinating and insightfully penned, offering incredible stories of how music can temporarily "cure" incurable brain damage (like Parkinson's, for example), or how deeply technical talents like absolute pitch are entirely dissociable from, and actually use different brain areas from, a more creative musical passion.
Even in light of such astounding subject material, my main problem with Oliver Sacks stands: he ultimately spins things in a very subjective manner, making speculations based on personal experience without much discussing the more interesting objective reality of what these case studies say about the brain's experience of music. In short, he simply doesn't take the scientific side of his musings nearly far enough for an author who starts every case study with a description of the damaged brain areas responsible. Regardless, it was a cut above the usual experience I have with Sacks books, and the handful of extraordinary questions it did raise easily made up for its short-fallings.